He's your tiny tiger. Beautiful stripes cascade down his sides and ring his tail. You're certain the “M” on his forehead stands for majestic. Your striped wonder is a tabby cat, and they come in all different breeds and colors.
What is a Tabby Cat?
If your kitty has stripes, he's a tabby cat. Tabby doesn't just refer to striped kitties. It has to do with a feature of the fur called agouti -- fur where the individual hairs aren't just one color. They have bands of light and dark color that give kitty his patterned coat. Non-agouti fur has hairs that are a single color. All tabbies have stripes around their face and the trademark “M” on their foreheads. Even if Kitty has only small patches of tabby color or his tabby coat is mixed with other colors, he still has the tabby gene. The tabby coat can be seen in most breeds, from the Maine coon to the Abyssinian.
Tabby coats aren't just stripes. The mackerel pattern, the most common and recognized tabby pattern, is so named because it resembles the skeleton of a fish. He'll have stripes down his sides that start at a center point down his back and he'll have a ringed tail. A classic tabby has large swirls of different color, kind of like a marbled cake. In the UK, they're called them “blotched” tabbies. A spotted tabby has rosettes of color, like a leopard or cheetah. Bengal cats are spotted tabbies. A ticked tabby as an even distribution of light and dark fur, giving him a speckled appearance. He'll look almost solid color, but you'll notice tiny freckles of different color in his coat.
Tabbies come in a range of colors. Orange or brown tabbies are the most common, but there can be blue tabbies, which are gray, silver tabbies and cream tabbies. By looking at his stripe color, tip of his tail and the background color, you can figure out what color tabby he is. If Kitty has dark orange stripes on a cream-colored background, he's a red tabby. A cream tabby has pale orange stripes on an even paler orange background. A brown tabby has black stripes on a brown background. A silver tabby has black stripes on white background. No two tabbies are exactly the same, and the colors in his fur will vary from cat to cat.
The tabby coat is considered the “wild” coloration in cats. Modern domestic cats descended from African wild cats. These cats were tamed by Egyptians who used them to control vermin in their grain. African wild cats have a tabby coat. European wild cats also contributed genes to the modern cat when they bred with African wild cats brought to Europe. These cats also have a tabby coat. If your kitty is a striped beauty, he comes from a long line of tabby ancestors who gave rise the gorgeous tabby who cuddles in your lap today.
- Fanciers.com: Cat Colors FAQ: Common Colors
- Complete Cat Care Manual; Andrew Edney, B.V.M.
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images